Classical groups don’t usually have CD release concerts, but when True Concord Voices and Orchestra performs its annual holiday concert Dec. 12-15, we’re going to think of it as a CD release event.
On Friday, Nov. 1, the choir will release “Christmas With True Concord: Carols in the American Voice,” a collection of international Christmas carols from England, France, Germany, Poland and Ireland that have new or rarely rarely performed American settings.
A couple of those songs were arranged by Green Valley composer Gerald Near including his arrangement of the traditional Welsh carol “Cradle Song” and his decidedly celebratory vision for the English carol “On Christmas Night (The Sussex Carol)” that opens the album.
True Concord knows how to do Christmas. With lush exquisite voices and sublime soulfully American interpretations, they take you beyond the cliche of “Jingle Bells” and “O Holy Night” to a singular somberly opening Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “Away in a Manger.” The women’s voices, sans vibrato, deliciously replicate the sound of a children’s choir as the chorus rises above the gently played oboe and Guy Whatley’s organ.
Detroit’s Stacey V. Gibbs, celebrated for his work with traditional spirituals and hymns, adds a festive toe-tap to the traditional black spiritual “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” while Wilberg, director of the prestigious Mormon Tabernacle Choir, ditches the Scottish pipes and retains the harp (Christina Vivona) on the traditional Irish song “Wexford Carol.”
Under the baton of True Concord Music Director and founder Eric Holtan, the choir soars on the world premiere of Glen Rudolph’s “One Gift,” a glorious musical setting to text by American hymn writer Thomas Troeger, and a stunningly beautiful a cappella arrangement of “Silent Night” by the late Stephen Paulus that spotlights a pair of soloists — the pretty spectacular soprano Cait Frizzell and equally terrific tenor Patrick Michael Muehleise.
Fourteen of the album’s 17 songs are world-premiere recordings including Howard Helvey’s lush “Love Came Down at Christmas” with Sara Fraker’s oboe adding lovely harmonies to Alexander Tenster’s piano; and the bluesy “Joseph Dearest Joseph Mine,” which opens like a Broadway torch song with Frizzel in the solo lead backlit by Christine Vivona’s harp and delicious male harmonies.
“Christmas with True Concord” is a follow-up to True Concord’s 2015 Grammy-nominated “Far In the Heavens: Choral Music of Stephen Paulus,” also released on the classical music giant Reference Recordings whose roster includes Utah Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, True Concord and the PaTRAM (Patriarch Tikhon Russian American Music Institute) from California.
This is the first of five recordings True Concord will make under the $500,000 Dorothy Dyer Vanek Fund for Excellence, which supports the choir’s commissioning and recording projects.
True Concord premiered the first of the fund’s commissions last year, a work by Near based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson. The second commission, Jocelyn Hagen’s “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” for choir, orchestra and film, anchors True Concord’s “Mozart & da Vinci” concert Nov. 22-24. True Concord was among several ensembles that co-commissioned the piece, which was premiered in Minnesota — Hagen’s hometown — in March.
Holtan said True Concord will release the second recording in 2020.